In part 1 of this 2-part series, we looked at the running back position, which, because of the skill and depth Kentucky has there this year is our major offensive strength, on paper. This begs us to ask the question, therefore, "What about the defense?"
Fortunately, there is a strength in the defense, namely in the defensive line. Juniors Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph, senior Collins Ukwu and sophomore Alvin Dupree form a solid, SEC-size defensive front. The defensive line also has quality backups in the 2-deep, such as senior Taylor Wyndham (the guy who put Tim Tebow out for a few games) and junior tackle Tristian Johnson to help. Promising freshman defensive end Farrington Huguenin has SEC size at 6'4"/263#, and sophomore Mike Douglas rounds out the defensive linemen. I have also heard some good things from Joker Phillips about Christian Coleman, the sophomore defensive tackle will surely see a good number of snaps.
Kentucky was 87th in Division I in run defense last year, and a big reason why was that the defensive line was seemingly always banged up and largely ineffective, and managed only 20 sacks all year, only good enough for 85th in the land. Those numbers figure to improve this year if the line stays healthy.
The ability to pressure the quarterback will be critical against the Louisville Cardinals, as sophomore signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater developed into an effective and dangerous offensive player, both with his arm and with his legs, last year. The Cardinals have not shown that they have a particularly dangerous running game, as even Kentucky was better last year, but Louisville has a bevy of junior running backs in Dominique Brown, Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry who will challenge the defensive line and linebacking corps.
But the most important thing for Kentucky is to get pressure on Bridgewater on passing downs. Bridgewater threw for over 2100 yards in 2011 all by himself, more than all of Kentucky's quarterbacks combined. Getting Bridgewater time to check down to a second and third receiver is not a formula for Kentucky's success, and if this bigger, stronger defensive line can force some quick or inaccurate throws and clog up the inside running game, Kentucky has a good chance of pulling the upset against Louisville, and possibly others.
2012 Kentucky, as of now and assuming no major injuries, has two major strength areas that it didn't last year. Yes, tackling machines Danny Trevathan and Winston Guy Jr. are gone, and the linebacking corps is not likely to be as good. However, the defensive line is potentially good enough to make up for some, if not necessarily all of that loss due to their size, strength and experience. In the running game, the Wildcats have a bewildering array of options including speed, power, and a combination of both. Put all that together and it means that despite predictions, Kentucky has a chance to surprise people this year.